Monday, September 29, 2014

Irrational Elitism

Random WPI flashback: first two years of SFS having to keep my distance since the folks in charge were cliquish and not friendly. (They did everything in their power to make sure new people did not feel welcome, causing an off-shoot of folks who were sick of their bad attitudes.) Third and fourth year were great - new folks in charge with an approach of "Welcome everyone! You are awesome!" It's no wonder that the SFS atrophied a ton in those 2 years, but came back to health once the yucky ones were gone.

That experience is one of my driving influences today when I work cons and as a teacher advising clubs. Experiencing that irrational elitism those two years gave me a good grasp of how not to treat others in an organization, especially when you want that group to grow and prosper. My success with running high school anime clubs can be traced back to that lesson.

Friday, September 26, 2014


"You were looking for a half-Asian wearing a Doctor outfit when you should have been looking for a half-Doctor wearing an Asian outfit." - Daniel A. Burrow, San Japan 2013

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


The closest I have ever come to playing D&D was making a character in 1999 (this was 2nd Ed, when it was AD&D). She was a warrior/mage dual class, level 5. Unfortunately, the campaign never happened since the GM got busy with school.

Despite my love of table-top gaming, I have never actually played a game of Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinder. One of these days I'll fix that. Maybe now with 5th Edition?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

England and Drunk Foreign Policy

Something to note: the British are our essentially drinking buddies when it comes to foreign policy. They're the ones where, no matter what kind of stupid plan we come up with after hitting a bar, they'll go along with it for laughs and giggles.

Rebuild Afghanistan? Sure! Invade Iraq? Whoo! Bomb Libya? Heck yeah!

What I find troubling: they're not helping us with Syria/ISIS.

Just how drunk ARE we right now?

Friday, September 19, 2014


Nolan North does the voice of all three cores in Portal 2. This means you defeat Wheatley by making him more like Deadpool.

Friday, September 12, 2014


Steins;Gate and Atlas Shrugged mash-up idea: "Who is John Titor?"

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Review: "Atlas Shrugged Part 2"

Atlas Shrugged Part 2 was significantly improved over Part 1. Better editing, cinematography, pacing, dialogue - many of my complaints about Part 1 were addressed, which shows they were listening to the fans.
Firstly, they stuck closer to the source material and largely stuck to rearranging Rand's dialogue for flow rather than tying to water it down or rewrite it. You actually hear Ayn Rand's wisdom coming through much clearer this time. One big thing they inserted was D'Anconia's Money speech (albeit edited), which was a gigantic missing piece of Part 1. I'm glad they remembered it this time!

I love what they did with the tunnel scene - it was one of the climatic moments of the book and they did an excellent job capturing the spirit and momentum of the scene when adapting it to film. In the book, it's paced tensely with the lack of responsibility being bumped up the chain and the tension of what to do mounting steadily to end in disaster. Here, they switch more to a visual form, letting you see the mounting crises on the railroad maps and such. It was different from the book, but precisely how it needed to be done to make it work in a film.

The new Francisco D'Anconia was a good choice and Robert Picardo as Dr. Stadtler was great (that's actually who I pictured as the character when I was reading it). I'm not fond of the new Hank Rearden or Lillian Rearden - I prefer the Part 1 actors, but that's a minor dislike.The new Dagny is fine, as is the new Eddie. The James Taggart they picked emphases a different aspect of the character: his showy bravado that masks his lack of confidence and fundamental hatred for competent people. He's less of an outward wimp like the Part 1 version, but it's not a bad change.

They did a good job inserting modern day parallels into the story, such as raising gas prices, both the Tea Party and Occupy Movement, and other little touches here and there largely missing from Part 1. You get a better sense that this is the near future.

Things they still need to improve:

1. 20th Century Motor Company - They keep explaining what happened in a very short and clipped way that just ruins the impact of that story. I really wish they'd just save the backstory for a narrative dump.

2. Flashbacks - They really need to use these. The backstory of Francisco and Dagny, Rearden's childhood, 20th Century, etc. would all be suited for flashbacks. It lets them show rather than tell.

3. Richard Halley - So we got Halley in Part 2 - for all of 5 minutes. They really dropped the ball on this, since music as a thematic element is much easier to do in a movie than a book.

4. Dagny on a Train - In the book, Dagny rides the train a lot. So far, we've had a grand total of ONE TIME where we've seen her on a train in these movies. It doesn't help the train symbolism when you have your train riding protagonist in a car most of the time.

5. Rising Tide of Mediocrity - We get a better taste of "the world is collapsing because only the incompetent are left" in Part 2, but they're leaving out a lot of scenes that in the book helped establish this early on. For example, Chapter 1 had a great scene where Dagny is disgusted by the sloth of her own railway workers who don't want to fix the problem so they don't get in trouble. Dodging responsibility is one of the key systems failures Ayn Rand was pointing out as a flaw of a collectivist system and did so largely through dialogue. Since those scenes would only add maybe 5-10 minutes to the film, they really shouldn't be left out as much.

6. Over Emphasis - On the flipside, there are several overwrought moments where the music and dramatic pauses cross into narm territory. It's good they're taking their time in Part 2 to stress things, but they need to back away from that a little. Increasing the number of minor exchanges (as described above) that reiterate the theme without a need to dramatize makes the point better.

My criticisms are less on the technical side this time and more on the interpretation and higher order film making. They finally have the basics down, now they need to refine it. I'm genuinely looking forward to Part 3 now and I hope they do an even better job with it.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Review: "Atlas Shrugged Part 1"

Is "Atlas Shrugged: The Movie" a decent film? Yes.

Could it have been significantly better? Yes.

These are my personal thoughts on the movie adaptation. It was not a disaster, but it was not near the level it needed to be. I see this less as a definitive adaptation and more as more a test of the water for a better Atlas Shrugged production sometime in the future.

Spoiler alert for those who haven't read it or seen it.

- No sense of desolation. Atlas Shrugged is set in a "crapsack America." This is the US as it deteriorates. Yet, except for a few shots of unemployed, there's no"feel" that this is a country on the brink. This plays into the overall lack of dramatic tension.

- The impact of the disappearances. In the book, every time Galt removes someone, it hits Dagny right in the gut. He's playing chess with her, trying to corral her into a checkmate as she continues to find moves. Here, it seems like a minor annoyance.

- Too short! An extra 40 minutes could have been added to the running time to include more of Rand's dialogue and messages with no harm done. Gaping omissions include D'Anconia's money speech, the condition of the town in Wisconsin, and the story of 20th Century Motors. More time could have also been spent to set mood and atmosphere, as well as characterization moments.

- The 20th Century Motors story should have been moved to the second film, but with it used here they should have devoted more time to it. The two key facets are the first hand accounts of the sister who instituted the "to each according to his needs" rule and the account of the former employee who saw the consequences. They also should have shown the state of the town (people living in squalor) to reinforce the desolation feel. Have Rearden summarize it in a few lines completely killed this plot's impact.

- In addition to a lack of unifying theme, there's little setup for the events, so they come off as being strung together like pearls. I liken it to "paint by numbers." The writer's forgot that this is an audience that can finish 1000+ page novels, so we have attention spans! Things are mentioned and then resolved soon after, such as the San Sebastian Mine. There should have been far more teasing about these things, with them mentioned briefly at first and only later ballooning into major incidents.

- The general structure of the film is off. You basically have three major events in the movie: the anniversary party, the John Galt Line completion, and Wyatt's Torch. Each of these should have been used to deliver significant developments in character, as they did in the novel. You use the party to explore Hank and Lillian and the Line Completion for his relationship with Dagny. You have the John Galt Line create hope and a swelling of good emotions from the audience, only for Wyatt's Torch to occur as the politicians do a last minute twist that ruins everything. These basic concepts of storytelling are missing.

- The party is sorely underutilized. As mentioned, it should be the culminating event that defines Hank and Lillian's relationship, with buildup along the way. But it also sets up D'Anconia's role later on (which the movie kind of does) with Hank. The two opposing philosophies should have been on display here, with D'Anconia's money speech (one of my favorites) contrasted with that of the rubbish philosopher and other inanities of the guests.

- They got rid of Dagny's train car. She spends more time in cars than in her own train! While it may be a budget thing, it's still a glaring issue.

- A key part of movies is that they're a blending of visual and audio. As a result, movies can use motifs and cues largely unavailable to books and comics.The major one they missed: Halley's Concerto. It would have served as both a perfect leitmotif and characterization for Dagny. By not having the characters smoke, they also missed out on the dollar sign cigarette cue though that one is less important. They also missed little things, such as the cars not being Toyota, but Hammond Cars.

- A motif they overused was, sadly, "John Galt." In the book, it works because it'd only pop up every few pages in dialogue. The time of reading text kept it fresh. In the movie, it's dropped every few scenes - far too often. It's like an auditory bludgeon. They should have been more subtle, keeping it mainly to visuals (such as graffiti) and incidental audio, like in the background of conversations. It should have also been used far more casually. After all, we know to look for and listen to it!

- Likewise, there are cues that would work in book that won't work in a movie. I agree with the writers' decision not to have Hank Rearden demonstrate the agony over his relationship with Dagny as he does in the movie. While that kind of tortured contemplation works in novels where you can see a character's inner thoughts, in a movie it would make him look very silly and emo. They did not, however, provide enough contrast between his relationships between the two women, so he comes off as just another cheating husband with no regrets. Oops.

- Lillian Rearden is played perfectly. Definitely the best actress of the film. She captured the character and dialogue splendidly. If only the writers had given her a proper role!

- With Hollywood's love of white-washing franchises with diversity in the source material (Airbender and Akira), it's nice to see a movie that does the opposite. No complaints for the changes made to Eddie and Stadler, especially since both were good in the roles.

- Other actors who did well were the ones playing Mouch, Potter, and Boyle.

- James Taggart looks too handsome. He seems less like the cowardly schemer who destroys for the sake of it and more like a second rate Jamie Bramber.

- D'Anconia was okay. I have a hard time judging the one they picked because Antonio Banderas has always been the actor in my mind for that part. I could have judged him better if they'd allowed him to deliver the speech.

- Dagny and Hank get mixed feelings from me. The actress playing Dagny does a much better job than Hank. A key problem is that Rand writes these two characters as being high level geniuses, who's intelligence is accompanied by not practicing the normal social niceties. They both have a "I'm here, but unless you say something important my mind isn't" quality to them. Neither of the actor's studied this kind of behavior quirk. Dagny's actress does capture some of the joy the character feels at genuine accomplishment and I appreciate the intensity she's able to emote in several scenes, such as the encounter with Lillian Rearden. Hank, on the other hand...Stiff. He's okay in some parts, but looks more like a shallow businessman than the master innovator Rand intended. They should have tried casting against type here to expand the range of actors and maybe find someone better at mixing both the sense of business and the passion of discovery and invention.

Am I glad I saw it? Yes. But it's not going to get people hooked on Atlas Shrugged. I can only really recommend this to people who have read the book and are curious how this attempt to adapt it went.

Friday, September 5, 2014


Fun activity: do karaoke of your favorite anime song, but replace every word with "Banana."